When Gerhard Pittnauer won the 2014 Vintner of the Year Award in June from Falstaff magazine, a publication that deals with wine, restaurants and the gourmet life, in Austria, he was cited as an “avant-gardist” who makes “delicate red wines” filled with “character.” When I read the press release that came across my screen, I thought, “Well, good for him. I want to try these delicate red wines filled with character.” I made inquiries, wheels were set in motion, and I received six wines from the importer Savio Soares Selections in Brooklyn.
Weingut Gerhard und Brigitte Pittnauer lies in the Gols area of Burgenland, where eastern Austria is notched by Hungary. This is the wine region whence come the country’s best red wines and dessert wines. Pittnauer is run on organic and biodynamic lines. Fermentation is accomplished by natural yeasts, with no commercial inoculation, and no new oak is employed. Alcohol levels are low, 13 to 13.5 percent. “Delicate” is not necessarily the term I would use, rather “elegant” and “well-knit,” as well as earthy and profoundly unique. At least four of this group of six felt almost ferociously linked to their vineyards and the purity and intensity of their grapes. On the other hand, these are (blessedly) not spectacular, in-your-face, blockbuster wines; their making seems more thoughtful, careful and nurturing. Gerhard Pittnauer is dedicated to extracting the best qualities of the country’s traditional red grapes — blaufränkisch, St. Laurent and zweigelt — but he also works with pinot noir, which wines I did not get a chance to try. Altogether, this are fascinating wines that I would mark Worth a Search.
Image of Gerhard Pittnauer from rotweissrot.de.
The Pittnauer Pitti 2012, Burgenland, Austria, is a 50/50 blend of zweigelt and blaufrankisch grapes. It aged 12 months, partly in used barriques, partly in stainless steel. This is the most uncomplicated and straightforward of these six red wines, though fresh and lively, vital and delicious. The color is deep ruby-ruby; aromas of ripe red and black currants, cherries and plums are permeated by notes of walnut shell, graphite and loam, qualities that persist on the palate and bring supple tannic gravity to dark and spicy black fruit flavors. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $16.50.
The Pittnauer Heideboden Zweigelt 2012, Burgenland, aged 12 months in used barriques. The grape is a cross of Saint Laurent, itself of ambiguous origin, and blaufränkisch, about which more further on. The color is dark ruby-purple; this is a deep, spicy, woodsy elemental wine, brooding with notes of loam and mushrooms under the brightness of ripe black cherries, blueberries and mulberries imbued with hints of cloves and sandalwood. The wine is quite dry, firmly yet not aggressively tannic, founded on acres of briers and brambles and vivid acidity but never losing the grounding in ripe and slightly tarry fruit and never feeling rough-hewn. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About 19.50.
The Saint Laurent (“Sankt” in German) grape is either a seedling of pinot noir or it’s not; the question may never be satisfactorily answered. It may have originated in France, and it is the most widely planted red grape in the Czech Republic. In Austria it comprises about 800 hectares, slightly more than 2,000 acres. The Pittnauer Dorflagen St. Laurent 2013, Burgenland, sports a medium ruby-magenta hue and enticing fresh aromas of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted red and black currants and plums. The wine aged six months in used barriques. This is an approachable and quite drinkable red, soft and pleasing in texture, but with the necessary stones and bones of clean acidity, moderate tannins and a hint of graphite minerality. It’s almost charming. 12 percent alcohol. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $24.
Here’s an example of what the right winemaker can do with a grape usually regarded as “light.” The Pittnauer Rosenberg St. Laurent 2010. Burgenland, offers an intense ruby-purple color with a shade of mulberry; ripe, meaty, loamy aromas of black cherries, raspberries and plums are packed with notes of smoke and ash, briers and brambles, all wrapped around — and this goes for the flavors too — a concentrated core of lavender, bitter chocolate, bacon fat and graphite. The wine is robust without being heavy or obvious, enlivened by lip-smacking acidity and slightly dusty, powdery, fine-grained tannins. It aged 18 months in used 500-liter oak barrels, a bit more than twice the size of the standard 225-liter barrique. Wow, bring on the rack of venison. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $27.
The name of the blaufränkisch grape can be translated as “blue grape of the French,” though precisely why is a mystery. In Germany, blaufränkisch is called, helpfully, limburger and lemburger; under the latter name, the grape in grown in small amounts in Washington state. The seriously dubbed Pittnauer Dogma Blaufränkisch 2012, Burgenland, is indeed a serious interpretation of the grape, displaying a vivid ruby-purple robe and rich, ripe, fleshy and meaty scents and flavors of black and red berry fruit. There’s no oak here at all; aging for 12 months occurred in stainless steel tanks. It’s an exceptionally spicy, lively and vibrant wine, and it brought to my mind notions of steak tartar or medium-rare burgers draped in melted Swiss cheese and laved with truffled aioli; you know what I’m talking about. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $33.
The Pittnauer Pannobile 2010, Bergenland, is a blend of 60 percent zweigelt and 40 percent blaufränkisch grapes; it sees more oak than these other examples, 20 months in used barriques. With its racy, ripe, fleshy and feral character, its graphite minerality, finely burnished tannins and fleet acidity; its deep, dark, spicy black and red fruit qualities, and even something floral and evanescent, it feels like an amalgam — or an anagram — of all the wines mentioned previously. Although this is obviously a well-crafted and important wine, I prefer the Rosenberg St. Laurent ’10 and the Dogma Blaufränkisch ’12 to this Pannobile ’10 as being rather more distinctive varietally. Still, this is impressive work. 13 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $37.50.